Knight of Cups ★★★★½

I continue to be thrilled by the way it breaks the Hollywood existentialist drama, the romance, and the enlightenment quest into fragments and just plays with them, building something new from cliché. The delicate, abstract nature of Malick's contemporary work is understandably off-putting for many, but his meditations have increasingly reconciled with the present-day world, and if The Tree of Life explores more cosmic ideas (literally and figuratively), it is nonetheless rewarding to see how the occasionally simplistic, Godrey Reggio-esque commentaries on cold modernity embodied by that film have given way to rapture with both the natural and artificial world. Rick may be adrift in a malaise of his own making, but the vice of L.A. is treated as well as the reveries of love and wilderness. The party sequence, in which confetti falls in a blizzard and silk dancers enact interpretive dances of chrysalis while suspended in midair, is one of the most arresting scenes that Malick has ever filmed, and Rick's transfixed gaze at the women arcing and twirling on the ceiling is not a testament to his lost soul but an ability to appreciate the beauty even amid a spiritual crisis. Most movies about L.A. take its City of Angels designation as grotesque irony, but here it seems to fit, even if the characters have fallen from grace. That does not mean they are in Hell, only on Earth, and while some might equate the two, Malick finds as much to inspire and elate on the ground as he does in the stars.